Adventures in China's New Territories 2: Dancing Dragons

IMG_6867I just spent a few weeks visiting my sister and her family in Hong Kong. I was there in May, ahead of the rainy season. It’s already hot and humid, only a hint of the weather to come….

It can’t be a coincidence that this time of year is also the birthday of Tin Hau. [1, 2]

IMG_7155 IMG_7170She’s the Goddess of the Seas, patron saint of sailors and fishermen throughout China and Southeast Asia. Her festival is always held on the twenty-third day of the third lunar month of the lunar calendar. This year her birthday fell on May 11th. My friend Weiyu flew over from Beijing, and we had the good luck to see a dragon parade. [3]

IMG_6727Lin Moniang (don’t forget that Chinese put the family name first) was born during the Song Dynasty on Meizhou Island in Fujian, China. Her dates are 23 March 960 – 4 October 987. She was the seventh daughter, an excellent swimmer, and wore a red dress. No matter how bad the weather was, Lin Moniang stood on the shore in that red dress in order to guide the fishing boats back home.

Wikipedia’s description of her legend is so good that I’ll repeat it verbatim here: “Lin Moniang’s father and brothers were fishermen. One day, a terrible typhoon arose while they were out at sea, and the rest of her family feared that those at sea had perished. In the midst of this storm, depending on the version of the legend, she fell into a trance while praying for the lives of her father and brothers or dreamed of her father and brothers while she was sleeping or sitting at a loom weaving. In both versions of the story, her father and brother were drowning but Moniang’s mother discovered her sleeping and tried to wake her. This diverted Moniang’s attention and caused her to drop her brother who drowned as a result. Consequently, Moniang’s father returned alive and told the other villagers that a miracle had happened.” [4]

IMG_7156She was deified shortly after her death. There are many reports of miraculous sightings of Tin Hau by sailors in distress. Chinese who immigrated often built temples once they arrived overseas to thank her for the safe journey. Each year a major festival is held on her birthday.

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One of the most spectacular is in Yuen Long in the New Territories. Weiyu and I headed out early to reach the town (an easy trip on the MTR, the wonderful regional transportation system). We left the metro station and immediately saw bright colors and a crowd of people. As we got closer, firecrackers began to go off! We’d arrived right on time!

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The firecrackers exploded and confetti fell out and rained down!

IMG_6737IMG_6743This village had just begun to parade their dragon. They circled the lot a few times accompanied by a loud drum and cymbals. There was another loud bang, more firecrackers popped, and everyone followed the dragon as it headed into town.

IMG_6817IMG_6830We arrived at another square where more dragons waited.

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IMG_6863IMG_6855They took turns weaving up and down the main street, curling and snaking, rising and falling in an intricate dance. Sometimes two dragons danced at the same time.

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IMG_6865IMG_6862People’s shirts indicated which village and dragon they were with. There were groups of old women waving fans, and children in costume, and lions. IMG_6856

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Can you see the dragon on the side in green?

IMG_6848IMG_6845IMG_6847Flags and banners waved around the Fa Paus, ornate towers with paper flowers. Huge elaborate placards wished for luck and prosperity.

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One village group’s Fa Pau

IMG_6809IMG_6852IMG_6843Offerings included entire roasted pigs.

IMG_6850IMG_6846I recognized those instantly from the worship of Bà Chúa Xứ in southern Viet Nam. It can’t be a coincidence that her festival starts at the beginning of the rainy season on the twenty-third day of a lunar month too…

NOTES: [1] Tianhou (天后) literally means “Empress of Heaven”. [2] She’s also known as Mazu, Tian Fei or A-Ma. The Buddhists conflated her into a reincarnation of Guan Yin, Goddess of Compassion. [3] She has over 90 temples in Hong Kong alone. [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazu

Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.

Go to my post The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ to read about south Viet Nam’s most sacred shrine. More pictures from our trips to Vietnam and China and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

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http://www.asiaatsea.com/tin-hau-chinese-goddess-of-the-sea/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazu

http://scalar.usc.edu/anvc/travel-and-culture-in-hong-kong-and-macau/tin-hau

16 thoughts on “Adventures in China's New Territories 2: Dancing Dragons”

    1. A fascinating detail is that my friend from Beijing had never seen a dragon parade! She grew up during the Cultural Revolution and anything to do with religion wasn’t allowed.

  1. Jadie, loved this story. Such beautiful pictures. Gave me a new appreciation of the Chinese New Years parade in SF every year. Hope all is well with you. Judy Patton

    1. Ditto for me Judy with the appreciation for Chinatown’s New Year’s parade. I used to go to it when I lived in SF. It was fun to see a larger version of a similar spectacle in the New Territories (and thanks to having lived in San Francisco I had at least an idea of what was happening). Nice to see your comment here!

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